At exactly 1:35 PM EST Tuesday afternoon WikiLeaks sent this tweet:
Stand by for an important announcement in 25 minutes.
Approximately 65 minutes later their announcement followed:
ALERT: Julian Assange has requested political asylum and is under the protection of the Ecuadorian embassy in London justice4assange.com/donate.html
At 3:29 PM the New York Times reproduced a Reuters report that had already been widely circulated and quoted by many different mainstream media outlets. Reuters reported that:
WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange has asked for political asylum at Ecuador’s embassy in London and officials in the South American nation are considering his request, its foreign minister said on Tuesday.
It wasn’t until after 10:30 PM — seven hours after news first broke — that the Times Ravi Somaiya published his article “WikiLeaks Founder Turns to Ecuador for Asylum” (appearing Wednesday June 20, on page A5 of the New York print edition).
Somaiya tells Times readers that “according to statements from the embassy and officials in Quito,” Assange is seeking “protective asylum” from the Swedish and American governments.
In its own statement, and where Somaiya seemingly quotes from, the London Embassy of Ecuador uses different words to describe the legal context of Assange’s request. Here is their statement quoted in full:
This afternoon Mr Julian Assange arrived at the Ecuadorian Embassy seeking political asylum from the Ecuadorian government.
As a signatory to the United Nations Universal Declaration for Human Rights, with an obligation to review all applications for asylum, we have immediately passed his application on to the relevant department in Quito.
While the department assesses Mr Assange’s application, Mr Assange will remain at the embassy, under the protection of the Ecuadorian Government.
The decision to consider Mr Assange’s application for protective asylum should in no way be interpreted as the Government of Ecuador interfering in the judicial processes of either the United Kingdom or Sweden.
The Embassy’s choice to open their statement with the phrase “political asylum” rather than Somaiya’s “protective asylum” emphasizes Ecuador’s international obligation according to Article 14 of the United Nations Universal Declaration for Human Rights (UDHR):
(1) Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.
(2) This right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.
Somaiya fails to mention the UDHR, Article 14 and Ecuador’s international obligation — which the Embassy is clear to point out.
Many other mainstream media outlets used the phrase “political asylum” and provided the legal context of international law to explain Assange’s request.
The Guardian’s Esther Addley and Beatrice Woolf tell their readers that the “WikiLeaks founder walked into the embassy and asked for asylum under the United Nations human rights declaration”:
Julian Assange has dramatically sought political asylum at the Ecuadorean embassy in London, days after the supreme court rejected the last of his appeals against extradition to Sweden to face sex crime accusations and after what he called a “declaration of abandonment” by his own government in Australia.
“I can confirm I arrived at the Ecuadorean embassy and sought diplomatic sanctuary and political asylum,” Assange said in a statement.
Sky News noted that:
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is seeking political asylum inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.
The 40-year-old went to the building near Harrods in Knightsbridge on Tuesday afternoon and requested asylum under the United Nations Human Rights Declaration.
…any decision [by Ecuador] will take into account respect for the rules and principles of international law and the traditional policy of Ecuador to safeguarding human rights,” Ecuadorian officials said in the statement.
Ecuador and the UK voted in favor of the UDHR, and it has the status of international law.
Assange is seeking political asylum from Ecuador on grounds that if Sweden extradites him from the UK the U.S. may follow with a possible second extradition to face charges of espionage.
Assange is currently waiting for the Ecuadorian government to decide on his application for asylum.
[Note: Julian Assange is an NYTX Advisory Council member.]
Chris Spannos is Editor of NYT eXaminer (NYTX).